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‘The night economy’: how even conservatives are trying to protect Berlin techno

Berlin’s music scene is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Party tourism fills up the clubs but leaves locals seething at the noise. Can Berlin city hall help keep the peace?

‘The night economy’: how even conservatives are trying to protect Berlin techno
Photo: DPA

It's a familiar story across the Western world: a heated property market and complaints from the neighbours are squeezing nightlife in the big city.

But in Berlin – known for its nightlife and understated cool – the town hall is stepping in to defend its legendary techno scene.

“Techno culture has given so much to Berlin, using some taxpayer money to support it is the least we can do,” says local Greens party lawmaker Georg Kössler, the initiative's most ardent supporter.

City representatives are set to approve Thursday a million-euro fund to cover soundproofing and additional staff to cool partygoers' exuberance, a big gesture for the chronically indebted administration.

They hope the cash can help put the brakes on a wave of closures that have struck in recent years.

Since 2011, 170 clubs have shut down their lasers, sound systems and smoke machines for good.

That leaves some 500 for the 3.5 million people of Germany's largest city and the armies of tourists disgorged from trains, planes and buses each weekend – more than 12.7 million in 2016 according to official statistics.

“Politicians used to talk about Berlin clubs as something nice on the fringes,” 32-year-old Kössler – who still calls himself a dedicated clubber – points out.

“But very surprisingly, even our opponents in the CDU are suddenly very passionate about this subject, which they call the 'night economy',” he adds.

Late-night lobby

Many clubs sprang up after German reunification in 1990 in derelict or abandoned industrial spaces in the once-divided city's east.

Now with 30 years of experience, club owners won't limit themselves to waiting around for one-off handouts from city authorities.

“We're aware of the power we have, so we press home the benefit the city draws from us, from tourism to the property market to startups,” says Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the “Club Commission” which counts some 220 of the city's best-known establishments among its ranks.

The latest campaign is for recognition as artistic venues, which could grant techno havens a seven percent VAT rate rather than the 19 percent paid by bars and restaurants.

Such cash incentives underpin noble sentiments about keeping the sacred techno flame alight.

“We want to stay on the sharp edge of contemporary music culture,” says Leichsenring.

“If you're offering 'free entry for ladies' or 'buy one get one free' on beer, we're (Club Commission) not going to spring to your defence.”

Techno pilgrimage site Berghain was the first to talk its tax rate down in 2016, convincing the state that clubgoers came for its line-ups of star DJs rather than booze, sex and drugs.

But Leichsenring argues that securing a tax break would be even more important for smaller venues without thousands besieging their doors each weekend.

“Big clubs like Berghain, which employs 200 people, are at least profitable, they can rely on their box office and the bar,” he says.

Nurturing art means clubs “have to take risks, also musically speaking, and taking risk is always an economic question” that's especially off-putting for those only just clinging to life, Leichsenring said.

Without the economic security to test out exciting new musical departures, the edgy, avant-garde feel that made Berlin nights out legendary across Europe and beyond could disappear.

Squeezed out?

Both supply of and demand for world-class nightlife remain in abundance in the city on the river Spree for now.

But the Club Commission worries that mass party tourism, insistent noise complaints and inexorably rising rents will push the city past its peak and into terminal decline.

The gathering pace of gentrification in the capital could be “the death of clubs”, Leichsenring fears.

Families on the balconies of their new-build apartment blocks are often loath to endure the beats pulsing endlessly into the night from graffiti-spattered former warehouses or factories.

Politicians should, however, remember the economic contribution that partying makes to the cash-strapped capital, the Club Commission insists.

“Let's be honest, young people aren't coming to Berlin at weekends in such numbers because there are nice shopping centres,” Leichsenring points out.

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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